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Five deeply flawed service principles

2nd Aug 2018
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Many of the Golden Rules of customer service have become outmoded as consumer attitudes have changed. Which ones should you be wary of?

There are quite a few generally accepted service principles, many of which have become commonplace. Some have even been called ‘Golden Rules’ of service.

But the substantial changes in customers’ attitudes to service that have taken place over the past few years have resulted in many of them becoming very tarnished or no longer worthwhile and in some cases absolutely wrong. 

Here are my top five from the flawed category.

1. The customer is always right.

No they are not - they are often wrong. So telling service providers that the customer is always right only serves to confuse them and suggests to them that you have no perception of how things are in the real world. It also suggests that customers come first, when it should be colleagues that come first and customers second. It’s better to admit that customers are not always right and then work out how best to serve them when they do get things wrong.

2. Treat customers the way you would like to be treated.

Why would you do that? It assumes that all customers are like you and would therefore like exactly what you would. But that’s obviously wrong, so here again a dose of reality is needed which is that all customers are different and therefore likely to want different things. The right way is therefore to treat all customers the way they would like to be treated. But they all may want different things, so the challenge is to find ways to do that - and still make a profit.

3. Always get things right first time.

That’s a worthy goal, but it assumes that perfection is possible, which in service delivery is highly unlikely. Also, to become and remain the best at service needs continuous improvement. That means constantly trying out new things, finding the best ones, and then making them the new norm. Developing new things requires trial and error, with normally more error that success at the early stages of the trial. So if right first time is a rule, as its practically impossible to achieve and its highly unlikely that any new improved service delivery systems will ever be created. It’s far better to accept that things will always go wrong and develop techniques to ensure that customer loyalty doesn’t suffer when they do.

4. Focus on fixing failures and weaknesses.

There’s a common belief that the best way to improve is to focus on what’s going wrong or not working well and then fix it. It’s obviously logical and it does work, but not very well, especially with service delivery. That’s because it generally takes a lot of effort to achieve very little gain and stopping being bad does not make you good, it just makes you not bad. A better way is to focus on what’s going right or working well and build on it. That normally results in the same effort creating vastly better outcomes, especially in customer loyalty building, because it can move you from good to great in key areas of service delivery.

5. The key to service success is great training.

There’s nothing wrong with ensuring that service people get the best available training, but it’s not the key to success. That’s because by the time people need training it’s too late. You have already hired them and they’re often too far into the service delivery chain for it to make a worthwhile, sustainable difference. What matters more is to ensure you only train the right people. That means taking great care to only recruit people with the right character and attitude to deliver great service. That is what makes the real difference and it is a far more critical key to success than any training these people may later get.

Chris Daffy is one of the UK’s best-known customer service fanatics. He is a Companion of the Institute of Customer Service and founder of The Academy of Service Excellence. His experience and expertise has taken him all over the world as a consultant and conference speaker and enabled him to work with organisations as varied as Airbus, Air Products, AXA, BAE Systems, Brenntag, BT, DLA Piper, Dorchester Group, ING Group, JCB, Jewson, Microsoft, Pizza Express, Toyota, Watches of Switzerland and Xerox.


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Jeff Toister
By Jeff Toister
06th Aug 2018 17:31

Many customer service professionals bristle at the first one, since you are very correct that the customer is not always right.

Readers may be interested to know the origin of that phrase. It turns out, the original quote may have been twisted a bit:

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